An Earthquake in the Nursery by Juliana H. Ewing

This is a short story for children about wild and crazy happenings that can occur in a young child’s nursery.

It was certainly an aggravated offence. It is generally understood in families that “boys will be boys,” but there is a limit to the forbearance implied in the extenuating axiom. Master Sam was condemned to the back nursery for the rest of the day.

He always had had the knack of breaking his own toys,—he not unfrequently broke other people’s; but accidents will happen, and his twin-sister and factotum, Dot, was long-suffering.

Dot was fat, resolute, hasty, and devotedly unselfish. When Sam scalped her new doll, and fastened the glossy black curls to a wigwam improvised with the curtains of the four-post bed in the best bedroom, Dot was sorely tried. As her eyes passed from the crown-less doll on the floor to the floss-silk ringlets hanging from the bed-furniture, her round rosy face grew rounder and rosier, and tears burst from her eyes. But in a moment more she clenched her little fists, forced back the tears, and gave vent to her favourite saying, “I don’t care.”

That sentence was Dot’s bane and antidote; it was her vice and her virtue. It was her standing consolation, and it brought her into all her scrapes. It was her one panacea for all the ups and downs of her life (and in the nursery where Sam developed his organ of destructiveness there were ups and downs not a few); and it was the form her naughtiness took when she was naughty.

“Don’t care fell into a goose-pond, Miss Dot,” said Nurse, on one occasion of the kind.

“I don’t care if he did,” said Miss Dot; and as Nurse knew no further feature of the goose-pond adventure which met this view of it, she closed the subject by putting Dot into the corner.

In the strength of Don’t care, and her love for Sam, Dot bore much and long. Her dolls perished by ingenious but untimely deaths. Her toys were put to purposes for which they were never intended, and suffered accordingly. But Sam was penitent and Dot was heroic. Florinda’s scalp was mended with a hot knitting-needle and a perpetual bonnet, and Dot rescued her paint-brushes from the glue-pot, and smelt her india-rubber as it boiled down in Sam’s waterproof manufactory, with long-suffering forbearance.

There are, however, as we have said, limits to everything. An earthquake celebrated with the whole contents of the toy cupboard is not to be borne.

The matter was this. Early one morning Sam announced that he had a glorious project on hand. He was going to give a grand show and entertainment, far surpassing all the nursery imitations of circuses, conjurors, lectures on chemistry, and so forth, with which they had ever amused themselves. He refused to confide his plans to the faithful Dot; but he begged her to lend him all the toys she possessed, in return for which she was to be the sole spectator of the fun. He let out that the idea had suggested itself to him after the sight of a Diorama to which they had been taken, but he would not allow that it was anything of the same kind; in proof of which she was at liberty to keep back her paint-box. Dot tried hard to penetrate the secret, and to reserve some of her things from the general conscription. But Sam was obstinate. He would tell nothing, and he wanted everything. The dolls, the bricks (especially the bricks), the tea-things, the German farm, the Swiss cottages, the animals, and all the dolls’ furniture. Dot gave them with a doubtful mind, and consoled herself as she watched Sam carrying pieces of board and a green table cover into the back nursery, with the prospect of the show. At last, Sam threw open the door and ushered her into the nursery rocking-chair.

The boy had certainly some constructive as well as destructive talent. Upon a sort of impromptu table covered with green cloth he had arranged all the toys in rough imitation of a town, with its streets and buildings. The relative proportion of the parts was certainly not good; but it was not Sam’s fault that the doll’s house and the German farm, his own brick buildings, and the Swiss cottages, were all on totally different scales of size. He had ingeniously put the larger things in the foreground, keeping the small farm-buildings from the German box at the far end of the streets, yet after all the perspective was extreme. The effect of three large horses from the toy stables in front, with the cows from the small Noah’s Ark in the distance, was admirable; but the big dolls seated in an unroofed building, made with the wooden bricks on no architectural principle but that of a pound, and taking tea out of the new china tea-things, looked simply ridiculous.

Dot’s eyes, however, saw no defects, and she clapped vehemently.

“Here, ladies and gentlemen,” said Sam, waving his hand politely towards the rocking-chair, “you see the great city of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal—”

At this display of geographical accuracy Dot fairly cheered, and rocked herself to and fro in unmitigated enjoyment.

“—as it appeared,” continued the showman, “on the morning of November 1st, 1755.”

Never having had occasion to apply Mangnall’s Questions to the exigencies of every-day life, this date in no way disturbed Dot’s comfort.

“In this house,” Sam proceeded, “a party of Portuguese ladies of rank may be seen taking tea together.”

“Breakfast, you mean,” said Dot, “you said it was in the morning, you know.”

“Well, they took tea to their breakfast,” said Sam. “Don’t interrupt me, Dot. You are the audience, and you mustn’t speak. Here you see the horses of the English ambassador out airing with his groom. There you see two peasants—no! they are not Noah and his wife, Dot, and if you go on talking I shall shut up. I say they are peasants peacefully driving cattle. At this moment a rumbling sound startles everyone in the city”—here Sam rolled some croquet balls up and down in a box, but the dolls sat as quiet as before, and Dot alone was startled,—”this was succeeded by a slight shock”—here he shook the table, which upset some of the buildings belonging to the German farm.—”Some houses fell.”—Dot began to look anxious.—”This shock was followed by several others”—-“Take care,” she begged—”of increasing magnitude.”—”Oh, Sam!” Dot shrieked, jumping up, “you’re breaking the china!”—”The largest buildings shook to their foundations.”—”Sam! Sam! the doll’s house is falling,” Dot cried, making wild efforts to save it: but Sam held her back with one arm, while with the other he began to pull at the boards which formed his table.—”Suddenly the ground split and opened with a fearful yawn”—Dot’s shrieks shamed the impassive dolls, as Sam jerked out the boards by a dexterous movement, and doll’s house, brick buildings, the farm, the Swiss cottages, and the whole toy-stock of the nursery sank together in ruins. Quite unabashed by the evident damage, Sam continued—”and in a moment the whole magnificent city of Lisbon was swallowed up. Dot! Dot! don’t be a muff! What is the matter? It’s splendid fun. Things must be broken some time, and I’m sure it was exactly like the real thing. Dot! why don’t you speak? Dot! my dear Dot! You don’t care, do you? I didn’t think you’d mind it so. It was such a splendid earthquake. Oh! try not to go on like that!”

But Dot’s feelings were far beyond her own control, much more that of Master Sam, at this moment. She was gasping and choking, and when at last she found breath it was only to throw herself on her face upon the floor with bitter and uncontrollable sobbing. It was certainly a mild punishment that condemned Master Sam to the back nursery for the rest of the day. It had, however, this additional severity, that during the afternoon Aunt Penelope was expected to arrive.


Aunt Penelope was one of those dear, good souls who, single themselves, have, as real or adopted relatives, the interests of a dozen families, instead of one, at heart. There are few people whose youth has not owned the influence of at least one such friend. It may be a good habit, the first interest in some life-loved pursuit or favourite author, some pretty feminine art, or delicate womanly counsel enforced by those narratives of real life that are more interesting than any fiction: it may be only the periodical return of gifts and kindness, and the store of family histories that no one else can tell; but we all owe something to such an aunt or uncle—the fairy godmothers of real life.

The benefits which Sam and Dot reaped from Aunt Penelope’s visits may be summed up under the heads of presents and stories, with a general leaning to indulgence in the matters of punishment, lessons, and going to bed, which perhaps is natural to aunts and uncles who have no positive responsibilities in the young people’s education, and are not the daily sufferers by the lack of due discipline.

Aunt Penelope’s presents were lovely. Aunt Penelope’s stories were charming. There was generally a moral wrapped up in them, like the motto in a cracker-bonbon; but it was quite in the inside, so to speak, and there was abundance of smart paper and sugar-plums.

All things considered, it was certainly most proper that the much-injured Dot should be dressed out in her best, and have access to dessert, the dining-room, and Aunt Penelope, whilst Sam was kept up-stairs. And yet it was Dot who (her first burst of grief being over) fought stoutly for his pardon all the time she was being dressed, and was afterwards detected in the act of endeavouring to push fragments of raspberry tart through the nursery keyhole.

“You GOOD thing!” Sam emphatically exclaimed, as he heard her in fierce conflict on the other side of the door with the nurse who found her—”You GOOD thing! leave me alone, for I deserve it.”

He really was very penitent He was too fond of Dot not to regret the unexpected degree of distress he had caused her; and Dot made much of his penitence in her intercessions in the drawing-room.

“Sam is so very sorry,” she said; “he says he knows he deserves it. I think he ought to come down. He is so very sorry!”

Aunt Penelope, as usual, took the lenient side, joining her entreaties to Dot’s, and it ended in Master Sam’s being hurriedly scrubbed and brushed, and shoved into his black velvet suit, and sent down-stairs, rather red about the eyelids, and looking very sheepish.

“Oh, Dot!” he exclaimed, as soon as he could get her into a corner, “I am so very, very sorry! particularly about the tea-things.”

“Never mind,” said Dot, “I don’t care; and I’ve asked for a story, and we’re going into the library.” As Dot said this, she jerked her head expressively in the direction of the sofa, where Aunt Penelope was just casting on stitches preparatory to beginning a pair of her famous ribbed socks for Papa, whilst she gave to Mamma’s conversation that sympathy which (like her knitting-needles) was always at the service of her large circle of friends. Dot anxiously watched the bow on the top of her cap as it danced and nodded with the force of Mamma’s observations. At last it gave a little chorus of jerks, as one should say, “Certainly, undoubtedly.” And then the story came to an end, and Dot, who had been slowly creeping nearer, fairly took Aunt Penelope by the hand, and carried her off, knitting and all, to the library.

“Now, please,” said Dot, when she had struggled into a chair that was too tall for her.

“Stop a minute!” cried Sam, who was perched in the opposite one, “the horse-hair tickles my legs.”

“Put your pocket-handkerchief under them, as I do,” said Dot. “Now, Aunt Penelope.”

“No, wait,” groaned Sam; “it isn’t big enough; it only covers one leg.”

Dot slid down again, and ran to Sam.

“Take my handkerchief for the other.”

“But what will you do?” said Sam.

“Oh, I don’t care,” said Dot, scrambling back into her place. “Now, Aunty, please.”

And Aunt Penelope began.